Saturday, April 05, 2008

Businesses discuss energy efficiency

Bangor Daily News

By Anne Ravana
Friday, April 04, 2008

AUGUSTA, Maine - The message was echoed by almost every speaker and pamphlet at the Governor’s Energy Efficiency Summit on Thursday: Investments in energy efficiency will pay off for businesses and the environment.

More than 500 Maine businesspeople, policy advisers, environmentalists and others crowded the Augusta Civic Center for the conference. Held in response to the pressure businesses are feeling from rising fuel costs, the daylong event consisted of speeches and panel presentations on what Maine businesses can do to conserve energy and reduce the amount they spend on heat and electricity.

"We can’t control what OPEC charges for oil, and we can’t control what the utility companies charge for electricity, but we can control, to some extent, how much of those products we use," said Brownie Carson, director of the Natural Resources Council of Maine, one of the event sponsors.

Keynote speaker Thomas Casten, chairman of Recycled Energy Development in Westmont, Ill., said businesses need to find ways to capture and reuse the heat and gas often wasted in the process of creating electricity.

"The elephant in the room in terms of efficiency is electricity generation," Casten said. He said that two-thirds of the energy that goes into making electricity is "thrown away."

Several businesses of various sizes shared stories of how they had taken steps to reduce their bills and carbon emissions. Jim Wellehan, president of Lamey-Wellehan Shoes, said he requested an energy audit from the state’s Efficiency Maine program, which involves an expert coming to a business to evaluate the building and appliances and suggest cost-saving measures. Wellehan then changed all appliances and light bulbs to more efficient ones. He also switched his company vehicles to Toyota Prius hybrids, converted the company truck to run on biodiesel and replaced oil heating systems with natural gas or heat pump systems.

Wellehan said the improvements have kept his energy bills flat for three years, and the state estimates his carbon emissions were reduced by 21 percent.

The Efficiency Maine program offers free energy audits to small businesses, and the Finance Authority of Maine announced it will add $1 million to boost an existing Efficiency Maine program operated by the Maine Public Utilities Commission that makes 3 percent interest small-business loans for efficiency investments. The new program will raise the loan limit from $35,000 to $250,000.

Gov. John Baldacci was presented with a new report commissioned by the State Planning Office and written by Muskie School of Public Service professors Charles Colgan and Samuel Merrill, and Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center professor Jonathan Rubin.

The report, titled "Energy Efficiency, Business Competitiveness and Untapped Economic Potential in Maine," estimates that Maine businesses could spend six to eight times more on energy efficiency than they do now and still save $450 million a year in avoided energy costs. Those savings could lead to increased business spending and growth, which could create up to 2,500 new jobs by 2020, Colgan said.

Just before lunch, Albert Colson, a maintenance engineer for Lonza chemical and biotechnology company of Rockland, browsed the vendor booths and said he had attended the conference to learn more about solar heating and how his office building could distribute heat better.

"I’ve learned a few things today," Colson said. "I’m hoping to introduce solar-heated hot water and maybe talk to everyone at work about installing a geothermal pump."



trapman said...

Tom Casten is right: we waste WAY to much energy in this country. Energy recycling really is the way to go. But we can't do much about it until we ease the monopoly protections given to utilities! That's why we don't have more of it.

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